Wrongly Placed Fear—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason Tilley
This reminds me of David who, dogged in the wilderness and hunted to the point of despair, still chose to let Saul live when he had the chance. He trusted in God, not his own hands. It meant he would suffer longer, but he trusted nonetheless. I think the fear of status loss in the West is dead-on. When we could be an example to the world by loving each other through our differences, we instead become petty, entitled bickerers.

Originally published, May 14, 2020, based on readings from Isaiah 13 & 1 Peter 1.

Scripture Focus: 1 Peter 1.17
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.

Reflection: Wrongly Placed Fear—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Christians have been taught that we are “living out our time as foreigners.” But in western culture, that was built on Christianity, it has been too easy to forget and too easy to feel at home right here in the world. But for the first time, some Christians are beginning to feel unwelcome.

This cannot be called persecution. It is at worst a loss of status.

Persecution of Christians around the world is more than murder, rape, and torture. In the countries in which Christians suffer the most, persecution is social and systemic.

It is this type of persecution—a systemic loss of legal rights and status—that scares Christians in the west more than facing down a knife attack, a rampaging truck, or a bullet.

This fear has made American Christians a paranoid and unpredictable group. Liable to believe fake news, liable to vote for candidates and support policies that two decades ago would have been inconceivable, and liable to turn on each other.

Nothing demonstrates our paranoia better than the increasingly divisive nature of religious dialogue. Progressive Christians blame conservative Christians for being dogmatic and mean-spirited. Conservatives blame progressives for abandoning central Christian teachings.

This is how people act when they are living in fear. But this is not the reverent fear of the Lord that Peter speaks of. That reverence is born out of love and leads to loving one another deeply, from the heart.

We live in fear that the Lord will let us suffer rather than rejoicing in that suffering as Peter instructs. We are living in fear that soon we will be considered the extremists—cast out from society.

The believers Peter was writing to were the losers and outcasts. They had literally been scattered from their homeland and cast out to the margins.

Christian thought has always been extremist thought. It is a revolutionary rejection of the world’s power structure. Jesus was crucified for extremist thought. It was Christian extremist thought that brought down slavery.

We need not fear being marginalized if we properly fear God. Christianity has done much of its best work from the margins.

It was from the margins that first-century Christians won more than converts, they won the culture. Not by winning court cases or electing the right officials, but by demonstrating the extremity of God’s love that comes from the Gospel.

May God give us grace to follow their example.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. — Psalm 71.8
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 3  (Listen – 4:41)
Psalm 39 (Listen – 1:49)

Read more about Where Martyrdom Begins Part 2
Giving up your life for others, doesn’t always mean that you die.

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Choose to Hope in the Cross—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, GT, Dallas
This post came out shortly after we started working from home this year and not only work restrictions, but ministry restrictions were tightened. I read, and was reminded, that in all times, through all things, our Hope is in Christ. I forwarded this on to some missionaries I work with to help encourage them. To this time they have continued to follow His leading and have continued wonderful ministry in the midst of it all because of Christ. Thanks!

Originally published, March 19, 2020, based on readings from Proverbs 6 & Galatians 5.

Scripture Focus: Galatians 5.5-6
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope…The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Luke 23.42
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

From John: The very thing the disciples despaired at, became the source of hope amidst any despair—the cross. In this time when many are despairing, our source of hope is still the cross. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear, that hope is hidden in the despair of the cross. 

Reflection: Choose to Hope in the Cross—Readers’ Choice
By Matt Tullos

Hope: When we look toward the constructs of eternity and find our true selves apart from our feeble flesh.

The two thieves represent two choices. One thief demands proof. The other pleads for hope. One looks to escape and the other looks to eternity. These choices stand as constant reminders that the cross of Christ demands a response.

Hope is personal. Very personal. Whether through worship, adversity, desperation or pain, we collide into the reality that our only hope is Jesus.

We can’t hope eternally in friends. Friends will fail us.

We can’t hope in institutions. Institutions over the course of eternity will evaporate like the ephemeral mist of the morning dew.

We can’t hope in hidden treasures. All treasures, short of grace, are water through our fingers.
We can’t hope in flowery platitudes because there will be a day when they will all wilt upon the parched, unforgiving soil of our brokenness.

Our hope is in the One who suffers next to us and says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” This glimpse of the cross reflects the absolute power of grace to snatch anyone from the jaws of destruction.

Was there anything the thief could do? Absolutely nothing. He couldn’t start a small group, feed the poor, go to the synagogue or study the scriptures. He found himself at the end of his life and the only thing he could do was to confess his sin and cry out to Jesus.

“Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man.”
— Victor Hugo

Hope was born on the cross.
Because hope was born we don’t have to be ashamed because he bore our shame.
Because hope was born we don’t have to constantly obsess about whether we could be good enough because He is our righteousness.
Because hope was born we are free.
Because hope was born we have purpose.
Because hope was born we are going to be okay.
And that’s worth celebrating!

Celebrate this scene of the darkest day! Grace rules even when we have no more time. Grace ruled the day then and now.

Have you ever felt like God has forgotten you?
What do you hope God will restore in your family, your heart, your church or your life?
Where is your hope waning?

*From a series Matt Tullos wrote called 39 Words. A few of these posts are available in audio form via Soundcloud.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you  be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me O God of Israel. — Psalm 69.7– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 5 (Listen – 2:03)
Psalm 36 (Listen – 1:29)

This Weekends’s Readings

Ezekiel 1 (Listen – 4:47), Psalm 37 (Listen – 4:21)
Ezekiel 2  (Listen – 1:38), Psalm 38 (Listen – 2:14)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum is grateful to our donors who enable us to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads.

Read more about Peace in Crisis
Acting with prudent caution, we can fearlessly engage to aid our cities and communities, loving and serving with abandon.

Seeking Silence—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jon Polk, Hong Kong
In our hectic lives today, silence is rare. Can you remember the last time you sat for 15 minutes in silence to listen to the voice of God as this article suggests? I’m not sure I can either. This sad reality is to our detriment. We all need this reminder to put down the phone, turn off the news, shut down the browser and rediscover the spiritual discipline of silence. Not an empty silence, of course, but a silence that enables us to tune our hearts to listening close to the still, small voice of God.

Originally published, March 5, 2020, based on readings from Job 34 & 2 Corinthians 4.

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 4.18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Reflection: Seeking Silence—Readers’ Choice
By Matt Tullos

The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. — Blaise Pascal

My wife and kids were away the night a violent thunderstorm hit our town and the electricity went out. At that moment I was watching a football game, scanning twitter, and listening to music.

When darkness arrived in a split second I realized that the battery on my iPhone was almost gone. A brief moment of panic ensued. I realized that in a matter of minutes I would be thrust into the lifestyle millions of people enjoyed in the 1800s!

The silence and lack of media connection was unnerving at first. It was then that I sensed the presence of God speaking to me about my addiction to noise. After 15 minutes I had rediscovered the beauty of silence.

These days, silence is something we must fight to achieve, but it is definitely worth the fight. The National Center of Biotechnology stated in a study that two minutes of silence is more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.

However, this is not new knowledge for people of the Book. The Bible urges us to experience silence as a spiritual discipline.

Every day we are faced with the choice of constant communication, noise and blather or intentional, Jesus-focused silence.

Don’t wait for a power outage in order to spend time in silence. God might be trying to tell you something but all the ambient noise and entertainment leaves you deaf to His voice.
I believe we would be astounded by all God wants to say to us and yet He never gets a chance because of our preoccupation with news, messages, conversations and entertainment. Silence isn’t just golden, it is godly.

Ask yourself, “How am I seeking silence in my day?” and “Why is constant communication and auditory stimulation so addictive?”

Take time to spend 15 minutes in silence today. Allow God to speak into your soul.

Editor’s Note: Fasts of many different kinds are common during the Lenten season. In our modern world a fast from certain aspects of technology might be as important as any other type of fasting.

We pray that our fasting would not be merely self-improvement or self-fulfillment, but instead, a process of self-denial, seeking of God, and blessing of others. — John

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 4 (Listen – 3:42)
Psalm 35 (Listen – 3:21)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum is grateful to our donors who enable us to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads.

Read more about From Silence, Peace
The God who turned his back, came back. He came to speak peace to the people who had chosen death instead of life.

Lovingly Named—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Daniel, San Francisco, CA
This post reminds me how Christ’s love for his bride/The Church makes us lovely. And how it’s such a generous and gracious gift that makes it possible for Jesus to be in union and covenant relationship even though we’re rebellious, unfaithful, selfish, and have violated who he is/his holiness. How wondrous it is that Jesus is our: friend, lover, brother, groom, king, lord and savior. In light of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus, the only proper lifelong response is to give/trust Jesus with my love and life.

Originally published, June 30, 2020, based on readings from Isaiah 62 & Matthew 10.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 62:3-5
This is where the scripture text goes for the email.

Reflection: Lovingly Named—Readers’ Choice
By Carolyn Soto Jackson

Falling in love is often described as a feeling of euphoria with an entertaining sense of exhilaration and confusion all at the same time. We are swooped up into another individual’s life and we want nothing more than to spend every waking moment together. Loneliness and emptiness give way to affection and adoration. Passionate glances and charming pet names like “baby” and “sweetheart” make us blush. 

Yet, the Lord’s delight in us is so much more triumphant than our human pleasures. Christ’s love is immeasurable and unfathomable. Christ takes great pleasure in his Beloved and he calls us by a new name. Our joy cannot be contained when we relish God’s love for us. Our jubilant responses include knees buckling in worship, tear-filled eyes, singing praises of his name, and hearts filled with rapturous, unconditional love. 

This is a love many do not ever encounter. 

Unlike human love which diminishes when we fall into sin, our God declares us his Beloved and patiently woos us back. 

Oh, what great love he lavishes upon us. 

Since the beginning of time, God stated he would not be still or rest until glory, righteousness, and salvation were established in Israel. Our Lord promised to continue working on Israel’s restoration despite their sinful ways. He did not give up on them nor will he give up on us now.
Their land, which was once described as forsaken and deserted, God christened as “My Delight is in Her” and “Your Land Married”. These new alluring names, Beulah and Hephzibah were bestowed upon Zion as a bridegroom would speak to his bride on their wedding night. Unlike the romantic love we have here on earth, God’s raw and tender agape love creates a longing within us to hear those names fall from His lips. No pet name will ever compare to the desirous names given to us by God. 

Our loyal, generous God pulls back the veil of his bride and rejoices tenderly as a newly wedded husband would do. 

Our God is faithful, even when we are not. He restores even when we rebel. Day after day, he delights in you and he delights in me. 

God brought us all out of a desolate place, rescuing us from death and destruction. So make yourself ready, wear your finest and brightest linens, for the time of the wedding is near.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him! — Psalm 34.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 3 (Listen – 5:10)
Psalm 34 (Listen – 2:14)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum is grateful to our donors who enable us to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads.

Read more about His Loving Presence
Jesus chooses messy companionship over perfect solitude. He is the God who risks pain and death to gain our fickle friendship and vacillating love.

Avoiding Haman’s Petard—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Sam, Texas
This devotional was a solid reminder that if I give in to tendencies to take things personally, equate individuals with groups, and fixate on only the negative…I can quickly become the villain.

Originally published, January 28, 2020, based on readings from Esther 5 & Acts 28.

Scripture Focus: Esther 5.13-14

But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.” 
His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then go with the king to the banquet and enjoy yourself.” This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the pole set up.

Reflection: Avoiding Haman’s Petard—Readers’ Choice

By John Tillman

The set up leading to Haman’s demise builds an extremely dramatically satisfying tension. 

Haman is metaphorically “hoisted by his own petard,” as Hamlet would say. Hamlet’s phrase referred not to being raised up on a pole but to being blown up by one’s own explosive device. (A “petard” was a small explosive used to breach doors or castle walls.)

What led to Haman blowing up his life? If we find ourselves thinking in these Haman-like ways, we are lighting a fuse towards Haman-like actions that will blow up in our faces.

Haman took things personally. Haman’s path to hatred was hatched based on an action which he interpreted as disrespect. (Esther 3.3-5) Mordecai would not kneel. In doing this, Mordecai was disobeying the king’s order, and seems to have defended himself to the other nobles by appealing to his Jewish heritage. Mordecai’s act of civil disobedience probably had nothing to do with Haman personally. But Haman made it about him and sought to punish his non-compliance. 

When we take other’s expressions of faith as personal attacks, we are thinking like Haman.

Haman equated the individual with the group. Rather than deal with Mordecai individually, Haman applied his hatred of Mordecai to all of the Jews. (Esther 3.6)

When we allow personal dislike or conflict to grow into generalizations and stereotypes about groups, we are thinking like Haman.

Haman demanded disproportionate “justice.” (Esther 5.13-14) Even if one agreed that Mordecai’s actions were disrespectful, Haman demanded disproportionate punishment for the offense. His vengeful desires are outsized in both scale (wanting to exterminate all Jews, not just Mordecai) and severity (wanting to impale Mordecai on a pole for a comparatively minor infraction.) This is similar to “cancel culture” today, in which online trolls seek to make someone who has offended them unemployable pariahs for life. 

When we seek disproportionate revenge, we are thinking like Haman.

It might seem like too easy of a lesson to not be like Haman. After all, he was an explicitly racist, genocidal maniac. Right? Haman didn’t think so. Haman would have described himself as a patriot and a faithful government servant. After all, Haman just wanted Mordecai to follow the law. 

“It’s fine to be Jewish. Just do it legally,” Haman might have said. 
Haman says, “Be respectful.” 
Haman says, “Be grateful.” 
Haman says, “Bow.”

If we don’t want to act like Haman, we need to be careful not to be motivated like him, think like him, or speak like him.

Image: Esther Denouncing Haman, by Ernest Normand — public domain

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings, From the widid who assault me, from my deadly enemies who surround me. — Psalm 17.7-9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 2 (Listen – 4:55)
Psalm 33 (Listen – 2:08)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Read more about A Prayer for the Hurting
Esther had her triumph from you; you procured the downfall of Haman. You brought us from darkness to eternal light…